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Christian nationalists are a small and dangerous group with outsized power

New data from the Public Religion Research Institute reveals which pockets of the country have become hotbeds for extremely theocratic views.

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Public Religion Research Institute’s president and founder, Robert Jones, shared new data America’s national identity is interwoven with Christianity — in regions of the country controlled by Republicans.

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it was a clear sign that the upper echelon of American legal power was delivering for evangelical extremists. And to underscore how dire things have become two years on, when the Alabama Supreme Court decision classified embryos used for in vitro fertilization as human beings, it wasn’t lost on critics that the chief justice invoked Bible verses in his concurring opinion and has been open in his support for extremely theocratic views

So PRRI's new study on Christian nationalism, assembled using interviews with more than 22,000 people, is timely.

Here are a few of my key takeaways.

Christian nationalists are a relatively small group but wield outsized power

PRRI found “three in ten Americans qualify as Christian nationalism Adherents (10%) or Sympathizers (20%), compared with two-thirds who qualify as Skeptics (37%) or Rejecters (30%).”

So adherents and sympathizers of Christian nationalism make up about 30% of the American population — and evidently about 66% of the Supreme Court bench, if the Dobbs ruling is any indicator. 

Alabama’s an outlier

Alabama is an outlier when it comes to the popularity of Christian nationalism. It’s one of five states where more than 45% of residents are classified as adherents or sympathizers of Christian nationalism. The others are North Dakota (50%), Mississippi (50%), West Virginia (47%) and Louisiana (46%). Note that these are also states with some of the most right-wing governors and legislatures in the country.

Different races express their Christian nationalism differently

PRRI found little difference in the percentages of white, Black or Hispanic people who identified as Christian nationalists. But it found significant differences in how these groups express that politically.

Among white and Hispanic Americans, for example, “holding Christian nationalist views is strongly correlated with Republican Party identity and support for Trump.” That explains the raft of right-wing programming I’ve seen targeting white and Hispanic evangelicals ahead of this year’s presidential race. But links between Christian nationalism and Republicanism weren't nearly as strong among Black people who hold Christian nationalist beliefs. The study found that “Black Americans who hold Christian nationalist beliefs are not significantly more likely than Black Americans overall to identify as Republican (8% vs. 5%).” 

That aligns with a blog post I published in early February, about how Black Christians have historically viewed their faith as a means to promote liberalism, compared with white evangelicals, who have used their faith as a justification to impose their illiberal will on others.

Read the full PRRI report for more thorough breakdowns of the popularity of Christian nationalism by race, age and education, as well as the five tenets the report uses to identify Christian nationalism. The data paints a troubling picture of a country largely opposed to theocratic rule, with pockets of right-wing evangelicals who claim a theocracy is their God-given right.


CORRECTION (March 1, 2024, 11:45 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the title of Robert Jones. He is the Public Religion Research Institute’s president and founder, not the CEO.